In this tenth video of ‘A year in the vineyards’, the last in the series, we look at traditional treading at Quinta do Vesuvio, where the grapes are foot trodden in granite lagares.
The vintage · Traditional treading
The time-honoured traditional foot treading in large, shallow tanks made of granite called lagares, survives in just a handful of properties in the Douro Valley, among them the Symington family’s Quinta do Vesúvio. Inside the winery built in 1827, teams of 50 people, known as rogas, tread each lagar. The first stage is called the corte during which two to three rows of men and women, arms interlocked, march up and down the lagar with military precision, their discipline ensured by the head of the roga who resembles a drill sergeant as he bellows, ‘left-right, left-right, left right’. After about two hours, once the grapes have been thoroughly trodden, the treading team break up the rows and tread at random to their own rhythm, often dancing and joking to the sound of the local village band. This stage of treading is termed liberdade or liberty – for obvious reasons.
In this ninth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the winemaking at Quinta dos Malvedos, whose winery is fitted with three modern lagares.
The vintage · Winemaking
Once grape harvesting gets under way it is a non-stop marathon of round-the-clock activity in the vineyards and in the winery. At the Malvedos winery as in all our other specialist wineries, the grapes are still trodden; today in modern stainless steel lagares, which are simply an evolution of the time-honoured traditional foot treading in large, shallow basins made of granite, called lagares. The modern variants of these at Malvedos were installed in time for the 2000 vintage and they have worked extremely well ever since, making consistently outstanding wines. The lessons learnt here were then used in our other wineries up and down the valley where modern lagares have also been installed, namely at Quinta do Bomfim, Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira.
In this eighth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the start of the vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos, the culmination of a year’s work in the vineyards.
All grapes have to be picked by hand in the Douro as the mountainous topography with its very steep gradients renders mechanisation impossible. Teams of pickers, known as rogas, gather at the Quintas, some travelling from other areas of Portugal to supplement their incomes. In some vineyards, the same rogas return year after year, sometimes over several decades, through a sense of belonging and pride towards ‘their’ Quinta.
The grapes are gathered into small, shallow tray-like boxes and swiftly transported to the wineries on small tractor-drawn trailers. In the wineries the grapes are sorted, de-stemmed, gently crushed and conveyed to the lagares — traditional or modern — in readiness for treading and fermentation.
Yesterday saw the Symington running team take part in the first edition of the Great Douro Vineyard Run. Formed by members from diverse areas of the company, Symington Family Estates won first place in the team event and saw every member placing highly, with second place in the women’s race going to Mariana Ameixieira, and third in the men’s to Pedro Silva, the team’s invaluable trainer.
The event, which was one of the first of its kind in the Douro, saw almost 300 runners compete in a gruelling trail half marathon through some of the most beautiful vineyards of the Douro. From the starting line on the banks of the Douro in Pinhão, the course rose and fell through the vineyards of Quintas Junco, Cavadinha, Terra Feita, Cruzeiro, Noval, Bomfim and finally Roeda, before crossing the finish line on the riverfront in Pinhão.
The half marathon was also accompanied by a 12km walk, which saw almost 1000 participants take part.
With high temperatures and a total elevation gain of 1000m, the race was not easy, but the determination of the 10-man team from Symington Family Estates, and the support of everyone at Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Cavadinha, meant a great overall result. Congratulations to all involved!
In a series of video clips to be shown over the year we will be exploring the annual cycle of the vine at Quinta dos Malvedos, culminating in the vintage during September/October. This, the second of the videos, documents vine training and planting.
Training young vines and vine planting
Once winter pruning is concluded, the next task is to train the canes of the young two to three-year-old vines onto the lower wires of the vine trellises, known as the ‘fruiting wires.’ Vine-training in our vineyards follows the Royat single cordon system meaning that the cane (or cordon) is trained horizontally, only to one side of the vine trunk.
Starting in February and continuing through March is the planting (or replanting) of vines. Our vineyards are planted from the end of winter until the start of spring of the year after the preparation of the terrain, known as the surriba, which involves the turning over of the topsoil and subsoil, whilst at the same time building the terraces on which the new vines will be planted. In the past the vines were planted in two stages, one year apart; first the phylloxera-resistant rootstock was planted and a year later the scion of the chosen variety would be field-grafted onto it. In recent years the vast majority of our vineyards are planted with bench-grafted rootlings, which already combine the rootstock and the scion. The great advantage of this method is the greater uniformity of the planted vineyard, which thus comes into full production earlier.
The 6th annual survey of the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands was recently conducted by the Drinks International magazine. The jury consists of over 200 leading figures in the wine sector, masters of wine, sommeliers and journalists.
The 2016 survey has nominated Graham’s as the World’s Most Admired Port Brand and the 14th Most Admired Wine Brand in the world.
Dow’s Port, also owned and managed by the Symington family, was placed 31 in the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands.
Other wines in the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands include Vega Sicilia, Penfolds, Château d’Yquem, Château Margaux, Guigal, Château Latour, Cloudy Bay, Mateus and Cheval Blanc.
The Symington family said; ‘We are very proud to have earned this prominent position amongst the best wines in the world. This wonderful endorsement is the result of generations of work in our Douro vineyards and in our caves in Vila Nova de Gaia, as well as to the loyalty and the great skill of the people who work with us in our project of excellence.’
From the 14th to the 16th of April, Graham’s received 19 students from the Institute of Masters of Wine. The students, of 7 different nationalities, spent time in Porto where they visited several Port lodges before travelling upriver to the quintas of the Douro Valley.
Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is a respected community of wine professionals, and one of the most prestigious wine qualifications in the world. To become a Master of Wine you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the difficulty of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 318 Masters of Wine worldwide, and it was with great pleasure that we received some of the current candidates in Porto.
Arriving on the evening of the 14th, they barely had time to set down their bags before they were on their way to the Vinum restaurant in the Graham’s Lodge for dinner. After being welcomed by Paul Symington, the group settled into a dinner accompanied by Altano, Chryseia 2012, and a tappit hen of Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port.
The next morning the group had an early start, being greeted by Paul Symington, Antonio Agrellos (Noval), and Nick Heath (Taylor’s) at nine o’clock in the morning in the historic Porto Factory House. The hub of the Port trade for more than two centuries, it was in these surroundings that the group tasted a variety of Ports from the different houses before departing to visit several of Vila Nova de Gaia’s Port lodges.
By two o’clock the group were at the Graham’s Lodge for another tasting, this time led by Dominic Symington. Here they tasted wine from several of Symington Family Estates Port houses, such as Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s, finishing with a magnificent Graham’s 1955 Vintage. This tasting, which consisted of wines from 2011 to 1955, demonstrated how Vintage Port evolves and matures, and the various stages it passes through in this process. Not a group to stay in one place to long, they then set off for the Douro and Quinta dos Malvedos.
When the group arrived at the quinta they were greeted by a meal accompanied by Quinta do Vesuvio Douro DOC, followed by Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, before retiring for the night in preparation for a technical tour of Quinta dos Malvedos and its winery the following morning.
Waking up to a pleasant spring morning in a Douro Valley quinta is not something everyone gets to experience, but so it was that the Master of Wine candidates started their day. Met by Charles Symington (head winemaker), Henry Shotton (Vintage manager), and Charles’ dog Simba, (who as Charles himself says “gets more attention than the wine”), the group were shown around the famous quinta and its lagar winery, seeing first hand what they have been hearing about for the past two days. The visit to Quinta dos Malvedos came to an end with a tasting of five Quinta dos Malvedos Single Vintage Ports from 2009, 1996, 1988, 1979 and 1965. The group then departed for Porto, stopping off at several other Douro quintas along the way.
It was great to meet the candidates for the distinguished qualification of Master of Wine, and we hope that the information we imparted helps them to reach their goals. We wish them the best of luck in their studies.